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The Creation of the Iran Bastan Museum

On 11 May 1934, Andre Godard was officially asked to prepare the necessary plans for the construction of the new archaeological museum in Tehran. This formal request stipulated that the architectural design of the museum should be consistent with the history of ancient Persia and Persian civilization and culture.70 Therefore, Andre Godard collaborated with his friend Maxime Siroux, an architect who had graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in

Paris, in order to propose a plan inspired by Sassanid architecture.71 More precisely, the pediment of the museum was modelled on the famous Taq-e Kasra in Ctesiphon and the red burgundy colour, typical of Sasanian architecture, was chosen for the facade of the museum building. This plan was accepted by the Iranian authorities, in particular the Shah. It seems that Arthur Pope played a decisive role in choosing the Sasanian front of the Museum. Pope’s influence on Reza Shah Pahlavi resulted also in the construction of other new buildings such as Qasr-e Marmar (the “Marble Palace”) in Tehran with a tiled dome in the style of Esfahan’s Sheykh Lotfollah Mosque, and the main office of Bank-e Melli-ye Iran (the “National Bank of Iran”) and Tehran’s police headquarters in Achaemenid style.72

Once the plan was accepted, the museum was built on a terrain of 5500 m2. The work took about three years (1934-37) to be completed. The inauguration of this building, which was named Muzeh-ye Iran Bastan, was held in 1937.73 It is interesting to know that in the same year, Reza Shah visited Susa for the third time and that this visit provided the opportunity for a royal outburst against the rapaciousness of the French “thieves” who had taken all the treasures to the Louvre and left Iran only the cement. He had long known about this “thievery” of course, but his words seemed carefully chosen at this time to signal his overall displeasure to Paris.74 For several reasons, relations between France and Iran cooled down at that particular time: according to the French, it was the result of Tehran’s rapprochement with Nazi Germany. But, in reality, it was rather the Franco-Soviet pact from May 1935 and the Front Populaire taking office in France in June 1936 that frightened Reza Shah, who already saw Bolshevism dominate the French Republic.75 In addition, Reza Shah was angry with France because French newspapers had criticized him and his kingdom severely for two years. A first critical article on Iran, published in November 1936 in the Revue de France, described the country as dirty and miserable and wished for Iran to become colonized or turned into a protectorate. Another article, written by A. Montgon in Le Petit Bleu, dated 21 January 1937, criticized Reza Shah as follows: “Ce souverain qui se targue d’etre moderne ne voudra pas qu’il soit dit que si l’on gratte le chah on trouve le cosaque”.76 Following these criticisms, despite the efforts of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an apology and the publication of flattering articles, Reza Shah recalled the Iranian ambassador from Paris. Diplomatic relations were thus interrupted for several months in 1938-39. Iranian students holding scholarships in France were recalled and running contracts with France were stalled. Despite these firm decisions taken by the Iranian government, Andre Godard’s contract was not cancelled and he could continue to exercise his functions and to organize the new museum, created despite the economic difficulties of the Iranian government.

The Iran Bastan soon became the principal Iranian archaeological museum. The antiquities that were previously stored in the former National Museum, created by Momtaz al-Molk in 1917, were transferred to this new museum where up to the present day both excavated objects from the ancient periods of Iranian history and art works from the Islamic period are on display.

After the creation of Muzeh-ye Iran Bastan, perhaps one of the most significant developments in Iranian archaeology during the reign of Reza Shah was the establishment of the Department of Archaeology at Tehran University in 1937. We were unable to find any detailed information concerning the relationship between this new department and the General Service of Archaeology. We only know that Andre Godard was influential in setting up the teaching program of this department and also that of the Faculty of Fine Arts. Students who graduated from the Department of Archaeology collaborated with the General Service of Archaeology. The first student to graduate in 1941 from this department was Fereydun Tavallali (1919-85) who went on to pursue his career in archaeology in Fars, which included the first series of excavations at Malian (46 km north of Shiraz) - although he is better known for his literary works. Among the early instructors at the Department of Archaeology were also two scholars who played important roles in promoting Iranian nationalism: Mohammad Sadeq Kiya and Ebrahim Purdavud.77

After World War II, Mohammad-Taqi Mostafavi, Godard’s assistant, became Director of the Archaeological Service of Iran, while Godard became Director General. Godard’s reputation was, however, soon diminished by rumours about his involvement in the illegal trade in antiquities, especially in the most scandalous “Ziviyeh affair.”78 He finally retired, and in 1960 left Iran for good. He died five years later in Paris.79

 
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